Down And Dirty – Test Decks With Zendi Cards

SCG 10K Philadelphia... the first major event featuring Zendikar!
Wednesday, September 30th – Zendikar is here, and Kyle Sanchez has been brewing up Standard decks! In today’s Down and Dirty, he shares seven distinct builds and strategies, with promise of many more to come. If you’re looking for a Standard edge, let Kyle lead the way!

Zendikar is upon us, and our salivary glands are working overtime since we had that succulent taste at the prerelease this past weekend! So here I wait like a Drooling Groodian for the release events this weekend, and I’m eager to open some boxes of Magic cards. I honestly haven’t bought a box of cards in many years, and I’m unexpectedly anxious about it. I’ve been sponsored for several years now, and have had the luxury to not worry about obtaining cards. I keep having visions of opening something sweet, like when I ripped two Lightning Dragons to start off a Saga box I got for Christmas a dozen years ago.

All that aside, this is a very exciting time for the FNM hustlers and Standard studs out there. The format is completely new and exciting; we’ve had two incredible sets added to the somewhat stale Shards of Alara Block format, and even a rules change to mix things up. There are several new tribes on the rise, with Goblins, Soldiers, and Vampires all having great angles from which to attack. My bet is that the Shards synergies will outweigh what Zendi cards bring to the table. However, the hype of Zendikar is too massive to ignore, and will likely provide a sea of awkward aggro decks to pounce on the first few weeks.

This very aggressive Jund build focuses on the stellar one-drops of Goblin Guide and Vampire Lacerator. The mana is a bit awkward, considering there’s only five sources to cast turn 1 GG and four sources to cast Lacerator. This could be solved by cutting Green… however, after testing the straight RB version for awhile, I quickly noticed how important Bloodbraid and Maelstrom Pulse are to keep ground in the mid game.

My initial builds started as Bloodchief Ascension centered decks coupled with Blightning, but it quickly became apparent that Blightning lost its value when you’ve got Goblin Guide filling their hand up, which is extremely important for the Rakdos players to realize. Quest for the Gravelord, on the other hand, is extremely powerful and for all intents and purposes an Instant speed 5/5 for one Black mana that essentially has Suspend 2 or so. It’s like a turbo Durkwood Baloth that works well against board sweepers and plays into the “remove their critters to swing in with mine” plan. Siege-Gang Commander also helps keep Quest’s value in the late game, providing a hoard of donks that you don’t really care about.

I also can’t emphasize how important Maelstrom Pulse is to the R/B decks. It solves the Baneslayer problem, punishes the tribal aggro decks that overextend with double Honor of the Pure or multiples of the same creature, and provides a catch-all for whatever funky Enchantment BS the opponent might come at you with, like the White and Black Ascensions.

One of the intriguing aspects I noticed when building these types of decks is how we went from having a glut of three-drops in Lorwyn Standard to being able to operate well under the curve and dump the hand slightly quicker with Zendikar. Everyone has numerous enticing one- and two-drop creatures/removal that they want to max out to gain the edge quicker in the game. The decks that are prepared for this trend and have a plan to combat it are the ones that will make the early jump as tier 1 decks.

This is the BS (blood sucking) tribe that is on everyone’s minds. Those guys with the long black hair who wear matching apparel and overly baggy pants with chains, hooks, and loops scattered across their attire are going crazy for this one. It’s going to be pretty easy to spot how many Vampire players there are at any given tournament, so adjust your sideboard with Devout Lightcasters accordingly.

I’ve been through several Vamp versions this past week. I started out centered around Vampire Nocturnus, but decided that wasn’t the game plan I wanted to execute. I also tried Bloodchief Ascension, but it just didn’t feel cohesive enough without the burn to compliment, so I ended up with this lean streamlined version that looks to just beat down, kill some dudes, and use Tendrils of Corruption to race the other aggro decks.

Marsh Casualties is a card that hasn’t gotten much attention, but wowza, is it insane out of the sideboard! It’s a strict upgrade to Zealous Persecution, giving you the option to take care of the troublesome White Knight or Devout Lightcaster, and enables you to size down their Baneslayer to take her out with Malakir Bloodwitch.

Child of Night has been surprisingly efficient given the amount of removal in this deck, and fills the curve better where most try and bulk up with the 1BB 2/3 Vampire Nighthawk and 1BBB Vampire Nocturnus.

For awhile, I really wanted Duress main deck, but I’m still going back and forth on it. I’ll probably end up playing a few main deck, since this deck feels like it could use the foresight to play around certain traps, and it’s so damn efficient. With Duress main deck you could even make the point that Nocturnus is correct, since you can protect him. He will still only give the Vamp crew a bonus 55%-60% of the time, and I prefer consistency rather than a Hill Giant with a conditional bonus.

Disfigure is also very important for the sideboard, to deal with the other aggressive decks and enable quicker counters to their starts. It also gives more ways to deal with Lotus Cobra and Noble Hierarch early on, to compliment the Gatekeeper of Malakir and enable him to hit a desired fatty.

Whenever I’m approaching a new format, I always try and look at the super linear and fundamental decks first, to get a feel for what exactly this format is made of. This pretty obvious brew is the new White Weenie. The spells in this deck are what really put it over the top. Harm’s Way and Path are just so damn efficient, and Honor of the Pure makes all the crappy creatures actually moderate beaters.

Eldrazi Monument is really good, and leads to some real blowout games, but just as in the Vampire deck, I can’t find myself including more than one main deck because of how much of a liability it is to cast at times. It’s clearly not a card you want to top deck to a dead board. Ranger of Eos and Captain of the Watch help to offset the sacrifice more so than the Vamps ever could, so it may be correct to force the sideboard copy in the main deck.

This deck really opened up the door for my Big Blue/White idea…

This one has been a blast to play. You use Harm’s Way, Path to Exile, and Day of Judgment to get past the early game, and from there in a counter-free environment I don’t think there are much better options than using the midgame Kicker spells that become super nutty thanks to Khalni Gem/Knight of the White Orchid combo to get up to the kicker zone. This one is still in its rough stages – I made it several hours before writing this article – but is definitely one I’m going to work on a little more to perfect the game plan. Rite of Replication is an absolute mauling, even if you’re just copying their Baneslayer or Woolly Thoctar. The ability to copy Captain of the Watch with kicker is crazy. It’s important to note that it’s safer to always copy their creature also to avoid running into a two-for-one if they kill your guy in response when they’ve got removal mana up.

I had 4 Honor of the Pure in here for the ten games before I realized the deck just doesn’t need it except to cancel out their Honor of the Pure, in which case Eldrazi Monument is just better.

Sphinx of Lost Truths is another critter I was thinking about, but he costs freaking seven mana… He combos very nicely with Khalni Gem if I’m mana flooded, and with Standard so depleted of good card drawing, that could be a worthwhile combo to pursue. Gem in particular opens the door to creative deck builders, since I could host a variety of powerful spells in here, from Iona to Bogardan Hellkite. It doesn’t seem too hard to combat the early rushes this format has, so late game strategies are going to become increasingly powerful. I haven’t looked too deeply at Grixis Control yet, but it was extremely hard to cast Cruel Ultimatum with the loss of Filter Lands, Vivids, and Reflecting Pool, so I don’t think we’re going to be seeing much from it unless it’s accompanied by the Gem. There could be a big mana Gem deck with Baneslayers, Broodmates, Bogardan Hellkites, and the option to max out for a Rite of Replication end game.

But I’ll save that list for a primer article for when the format settles down.

This mono-White machine is the real bad boy on the block, and has been my most successful deck so far in Zendikar. It plays the best one-mana removal, backed up by the best board sweeper, then commences in dropping a butt load of White pellets until the opponent dies. Knight of the White Orchid is the real glue that keeps this deck together, and is the keystone for the nutty aggressive draws like turn 3 Knight + Honor of the Pure, turn 4 Conqueror’s Pledge. Eat that Cloudgoat, you were never that good! I was debating whether or not to put a fourth Pledge, but decided a singleton Martial Coup would be better suited to diversify that slot.

There’s something that makes me feel nasty playing fourteen freaking Plains in a deck, but with Emeria and Gargoyle Castle to give me some spells off my lands, I don’t feel so ashamed about it. The singleton Iona in the board is there to mise those mono colored decks running around. I know I’m stone dead to an Iona, and there are a surprising amount of decks that just scoop to it once it resolves.

This deck is still in the early stages, but I’ve been looking into splashing either Red, Black, or Blue… hell, even possibly Green with that Borderpost. I’m not sure if it’s worth it yet, and the deck already has a pretty rock solid game 1, but sideboarding into Duress, Negate, Volcanic Fallout, or Summoning Trap could be worth it.

Naya is another popular kid on the block right now, but instead of posting the same Wild Nacatl/Ranger of Eos deck everyone is going nut crazy for (that has awkward mana thanks to trying to cast Noble Hierarch with the Mountain/Plains hungry Nacatl), I’m going to post my big boy Naya control list. This one has the Path/Bolt/Fallout plan in full effect, this time complimented by Journey to Nowhere since we aren’t going to waste time casting bad one- and two-drops. Ajani Vengeant is better complimented by this removal suite, and you have the ability to use Day of Judgment more favorably that in the more aggro oriented versions.

The creatures are the best Naya has to offer. Bloodbraid Elf and Enlisted Wurm give you card advantage alongside Ajani and Day of Judgment. Woolly Thoctar and Baneslayer Angel are the two best creatures the colors have, so the creature slots seemed fairly elementary. I really wish I had room for Mycoid Shepherd; I’m thinking about lightening up on Fallouts to include him main deck.

Luminarch Ascension plus Naya Charm post board is kinda exciting too…

This build is a little different from what I’ve seen around the net. Lotus Cobra gives you a unique opportunity to be able to play a cheap dude while leaving countermagic/removal mana up. I couldn’t find room for Finest Hour in here, but the resiliency that the counters provide makes up for the busty wins out of nowhere that are so common with Finest Hour. I’m also not sure that Jhessian Infiltrator is the best option without Finest Hour, but they always kill him so it’s kind of hard to tell.

Elspeth gives Lotus Cobra some value as a 5/4 flying beater, but I’d really like to find room for Garruk Wildspeaker. Finding a way to give the Cobra/Hierarch decks some value later on is very important, and Behemoth Sledge is another option to keep in mind later on.

That’s all I got this week. Tune in next week when I hope to cover Ob Nixilis World, Domain 5CG, Jund Control, Goblins, and Zombies!

Thanks for reading…